For nearly a thousand years, Sudeley Castle has been home to some of England’s most famous monarchs, and the setting in which some the most dramatic episodes in English history have been played out. Starting with Goda, daughter of King Ethelred the Unready, the castle was later occupied by Richard III, who built its magnificent banqueting hall, and then by King Charles I, who made it his temporary base during the English Civil War.
But it was the Tudors who really made Sudeley their own: it’s where Henry VIII stayed with Anne Boleyn while he made his decision to begin the Dissolution of the monasteries; where Katherine Parr, Henry’s last wife, later lived and was finally laid to rest; and where Elizabeth I famously attended an epic three day party as part of her victory tour after defeating the Spanish Armada.
Set against Gloucestershire’s beautiful Cotswold Hills, Sudeley Castle is now home to Lady Ashcombe and her family, who are committed to the continued preservation of the castle, its treasures and the ongoing regeneration of the gardens.
Today, visitors can enjoy walking among the public rooms and stunning gardens, including the Queen’s Garden, named because so many English queens walked upon its original Tudor Parterre.
But for one weekend only, there’s a new opportunity to explore: you can join archaeologists attempting to unearth traces of its Tudor past that have so far remained hidden underground…
While the Queen’s Garden is the centre-piece of any visit to Sudeley Castle, there were other Tudor gardens around the castle, some of which fell out of use and gradually vanished from sight. In the 19th century, masonry and other items were recovered from a mysterious hump in one of the surrounding fields and now, a recent geophysical survey has revealed the ghostly layout of a nearly perfect, undisturbed Tudor garden. What structure might be revealed beneath the hump? And how much of the original garden is left?
Luckily for archaeologists, Sudeley Castle escaped the popular landscaping movement inspired by Capability Brown, meaning that this ‘ghost garden’ may have been left largely untouched, making it one of perhaps only two remaining in England where the original garden paths remain visible.
As if the tantalizing prospect of a rare original Tudor parterre isn’t enough, there’s yet another intriguing piece of history hidden among the rosebushes. Geophysics results have produced clear evidence of an historic structure right in the middle of the Tudor garden: what is it? And how much of it survives?
We know that Queen Elizabeth I visited Sudeley in the summer of 1592, while on a tour of her kingdom. Celebrating the anniversary of the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Elizabeth and her retinue embarked on three days of such extravagant partying that it nearly bankrupted her host. This epic celebration has been described as one of the longest in royal history and, based on the geophysics and masonry already found, we think the hump is likely to be the remains of the banqueting hall in which the party took place.
Our mission for this dig is to unearth part of the Tudor garden, find out if it’s also the site of Elizabeth’s banqueting hall, and recover as much evidence from this historic party scene as we can.
Have you always wanted to get hands-on with Tudor history? This DigVentures Dirty Weekend is your chance to help archaeologists investigate a missing piece of Sudeley’s incredible past.
The weekend includes a VIP tour of the gardens and a unique introduction to the history of Sudeley Castle, an in-depth archaeological briefing, and instruction on the techniques of how to do archaeology. You’ll then help excavate five different test pits, each one at a specially chosen location designed to help locate and unearth an as-yet untouched piece of Tudor history.
By the end, you’ll know how to excavate, identify artefacts, recognise archaeological layers, record your discoveries and (fingers crossed) have helped to recover evidence and information about Elizabeth’s infamous banqueting hall and the accompanying Tudor gardens.
PLEASE NOTE: there are just 10 places available for this fabulous weekend! Book now to secure your place.
Everything you need to know about joining the Dirty Weekend at Sudelely Castle
A Dirty Weekend gets you a single place on the dig for the weekend. But things are twice as much fun when there’s two of you! If you book ‘Friends with Benefits’ you get two places on the dig for the weekend, plus a 20% discount. Hurrah!
09:00 Rendez-vous for archaeological briefing
10:00 How To Do Archaeology lesson
13:00 Picnic in the gardens (bring your own lunch)
14:00 Excavation and recording
16:00 Tea break
16:15 Interpretation and discussion of discoveries
17:00 Tools down!
We will be excavating five different locations around the long lost Tudor garden. Geophysics results have shown that this garden also includes the remains of a large banqueting hall, which was likely the venue for the epic three-day party attended by Elizabeth I, as part of her Spanish Armada anniversary victory tour.
Our aim is to unearth evidence of the banqueting hall and the gardens, and find out as much as we can about his historic Tudor site. How much of it survives? Can we find traces left by the party-goers? What did the rest of the garden look like? And can we unearth the original parterre?
Over the course of the weekend, you’ll learn the basic skills that a field archaeologist uses in their investigations, while using them hands-on to help us locate this missing piece of Tudor history.
These skills include the process of stratigraphic excavation, identifying finds, features and new archaeological layers, and how to record anything you find.
By the end, you should be confident in using all these skills, and (hopefully!) have helped us solve the case!
We can try to predict what we’ll find on a dig, but not knowing is definitely part of the fun! It could be anything from Tudor dress pins and trinkets left by the party-goers, to architectural carved stone or garden features. The most important thing is to locate the banqueting hall, and find out how much of the garden survives below the ground.
Don’t worry! Once you’ve made your booking, we’ll send you an email with specific instructions about joining us at Sudeley Castle closer to the time.
There are just 10 places available on this unique archaeological adventure. As well as your fellow Dirty Weekenders, you’ll be digging alongside the DigVentures team.
Accommodation is not included in the Dirty Weekend, but there are plenty of places to stay in the area, including Sudeley Castle cottages. If you’re interested in booking one, please contact them directly letting them know you’re part of the DigVentures Dirty Weekend.
Food isn’t included, and we recommend bringing a packed lunch suitable for enjoying picnic-style in the gardens. Alternatively, there’s the option to buy lunch in Sudeley Castle’s Terrace Restaurant for anyone who prefers to enjoy eating in style!
We’ll bring the tools, the expertise and the commitment to teach you everything you need to know. You just bring yourself and bags of enthusiasm! Having said that, here’s a few things you’ll also find handy:
You can read more about the illustrious history of Sudeley Castle, which continues as a family residence to the present day. King Charles I found refuge here during the Civil War, after which it lay neglected and derelict for nearly 200 years. King George III was amongst those sightseers who came to admire its romantic ruins.
In 1837, Sudeley was rescued by the Dent family, who began an ambitious restoration programme. Emma Dent’s dedication is particularly evident in the gardens and exhibitions at Sudeley today.
Now home to Lady Ashcombe and her family, they are committed to the continued preservation of the castle, its treasures and the ongoing restoration and regeneration of the gardens. With over 1,200 acres, that’s a big commitment!
DigVentures is a team of professional archaeologists who run excavations that are open to anyone with an interest in uncovering the past. We launched the world’s first crowdfunded dig in 2012, and since then our international community has continued to help the team make seriously impressive discoveries: we’ve located the original Anglo-Saxon monastery on Lindisfarne, solved the mystery behind an Iron Age hillfort in Gloucestershire, and even unearthed a rare Bronze Age barrow in Lancashire. DigVentures’ biggest passion is enabling people to get involved in archaeology, and we’ve even built a digital platform to enable people around the world to follow our discoveries online, in real time.
Sign up now and be one of the first to hear about how to get involved with DV’s archaeology projects – online and in the field!